by Freddy J. Nager, Founder of Atomic Tango + Certified Non-Celebrity
I’d like to say it’s because of the inane trending topics. Take some of the drivel du jour…
Yes, that’s what’s hot on Twitter as I write this (each trend is based on hundreds and hundreds of tweets). Kind of makes your cerebrum cringe, doesn’t it?
Well, sadly, lobotomizing trends aren’t the reason people quit Twitter — in fact, they’re part of the social network’s attraction. (Tell me again how social media will advance civilization.)
No, the reason most people quit Twitter is that they see NO VALUE in what they’re doing. They putter around, attempting “best practices” preached by social media gurus, then realize that they’ve wasted hours reading meaningless blather and tweeting messages that get zero response. They might as well have walked around Grand Central Station talking to themselves and eavesdropping on conversations. At least they’d get some exercise.
Even Megan Fox doesn’t see the value in Twitter — here’s her last Tweet, posted January 9, 2013:
Yet her now-inactive account still has 880,000 followers.
And there’s the problem: most Twitter “best practices” are based on celebrities…
By celebrities, I’m including people, organizations, and hot brands that consumers love, from Ashton Kutcher to Kogi BBQ, Pete Cashmore to the Dallas Cowboys. (If the Supreme Court can claim that corporations are people, so can I.) These “celebrated” brands already had the pieces in place to command an attentive following on Twitter, and what works for them won’t necessarily work for the rest of us, even if we copied everything they do. That’s true even of Kogi BBQ: very few food trucks have replicated Kogi’s success despite copying their practices. Yet millions of Twitter newbies expect that simply tweeting will bestow unto them celebrity-like followings and responses.
So ask yourself this:
- Are you a Hollywood actor, rock star, or comedian who’s C-list or higher?
- Are you a trendy and critically acclaimed gourmet food truck that runs from L.A. hotspot to hotspot?
- Are you a known journalist, news outlet, or prominent member of the techie community?
- Are you a professional sports team, band, political party, or religion with a cult following?
If you answered “no” to all the above, then Twitter might not work for you as hyped by the gurus. Odds are, your tweeting alone won’t attract many legitimate (non-spammer) followers — most people attract fewer than 100. You likely won’t get many responses — one study found that 71% of tweets are ignored.
But don’t despair, oh fellow non-celebs — there’s still value in Twitter for the rest of us, and it entails just 3 elements. In typical marketer fashion, I started them all with the same letter. (Little things like that keep us liberal arts grads happy.)
The 3R’s Of Twitter…
Yes, there are many uses of Twitter not covered below, but these fundamentals apply to most people and organizations just starting to tweet — or wondering whether they should tweet at all.
In the beginning, don’t worry about responses to your individual tweets. Rather, treat the collection of all your tweets as a body of work, just like a collection of sentences makes up a novel. Your Twitter profile is a verbal snapshot of you, composed 140 characters at a time. So before you issue a single tweet, consider how you want people to perceive you if they check out your entire Twitter profile. Would they see you as an expert in your field, or someone who just makes random trivial observations with no relevance to other people (such as comments about the weather, check-ins of your current location, and anything about Klout)? Would they see you as someone special whom they’d want to hire or do business with, or just another boring clone who shares famous quotations and article after article without comments?
This R is obviously important for those concerned about their brands online (which should be most people and organizations): your Twitter profile ranks highly on Google when people search for you, and it’s a result that you can control. So start off with 20 tweets or so that show all those recruiters/customers/journalists/investors/potential spouses etc. that you’re clever, conscientious, and completely trustworthy.
In addition to setting up a profile to enlighten people who are researching you, use Twitter to research other people. If you have a job interview or an investor pitch coming up, by all means know what the company (and, if possible, the person you’re meeting) has been tweeting. In addition, know the journalists, bloggers, and other influencers covering your industry. And, of course, know the potential clients or customers who fall within your target market — what interests them besides your product?
And don’t forget to check out the competition: What are they hyping? Who are their followers? (Tip: your competitor’s customers are really good to know.) At the least, monitor your competitors so you can differentiate yourself from them.
In addition, use that Twitter search field to look up what people might be saying about your industry, your product category, even yourself. (You may be more of a celebrity than you think.) That research might give you ideas for your business, or involve you in a worthwhile conversation. Do keep in mind that Twitter is not representative of the U.S. population (and definitely not the world) in terms of age, race, education, values, tech savvy, and other factors, and what people talk about on Twitter is not a reflection of what they’ll actually do (like vote or watch Sharknado), so take whatever you learn on Twitter as suggestions only.
Ideally, Twitter will help you meet people who will make you rich and famous, or at the least buy whatever you’re selling.
Don’t hold your breath.
Sure, you’ve read Twitter success stories, but notice how few success stories there are out of Twitter’s 200 million users. (Actually, given all the spammers and dead accounts, I’m guessing it’s only about 100 million users, but that’s another story.)
Instead, use Twitter to meet colleagues in your industry (or collaborators and complements, if you’re a business). Use it to develop a rapport with influencers — members of the community who can significantly affect you or your industry: journalists/bloggers, politicians, and some select celebrities.
By the way, building a relationship with someone on Twitter involves much more than just following them. Just following someone is not marketing — it’s stalking.
Obviously and ultimately, use Twitter to establish relationships with potential employers/clients/customers, but first determine if and why they’d want a relationship with you (hint to corporations: most customers aren’t that into you). If you already have customers or fans, then use Twitter to provide interaction and service — but monitor how much time you’re investing and what you’re getting out of it. The purpose should be to enhance the relationship, not to perfect your chitchat skills.
On that note, some of you may be wondering where’s the fourth R — ROI?
Certainly, getting financial value out of social media is what everyone is finally talking about, right? Well, yes, they’re talking about it but very few are actually achieving it — especially when they’re just starting out. So in the beginning, focus on the 3R’s, and once you establish a reputation and relationships, then think financial returns.
What about followers and engagement? At this point in your Twitter career, they’re mostly distractions. First, “following” is Twitter’s biggest lie — and the basis of a thriving sweatshop industry in fake followers. So don’t sweat the numbers. Most legitimate and worthwhile followers will be generated by your activities in the real world: networking, speaking, publishing, teaching, consulting, singing, dancing, slamdunking, wining, dining, etc.
As for “engagement,” in another post I ranted about how it’s a meaningless term and that the ideal responses to your tweets are clickthroughs and business results… which most people on Twitter never get enough of to even bother counting. For the time being, your ideal “engagement” is establishing those true relationships I mentioned above.
But Wait, There’s Not More…
Some of you may be thinking that reputation, relationships, and research alone aren’t worth your time — and you’re right if you already have a solid reputation in the real world, many strong and valuable relationships, and a team to do your research for you. Interestingly, that’s the case with most celebrities.
Yes, most celebrities are wasting their time on Twitter, too.
Even with these 3R’s, Twitter isn’t for everyone. My colleague Ron Shevlin (who I met on Twitter) wrote a blogpost that’s entertaining as well as insightful: “Three Reasons Why Your CEO Should Stay The Hell Away From Twitter.” To steal his thunder, here are Ron’s 3 key reasons for abstinence:
- S/he has nothing to say.
- Your customers aren’t on Twitter.
- S/he has better things to do with his/her time.
Amen to that. And I would add that, like celebrities, most CEO’s already have strong reputations, relationships, and researchers. Indeed, a CEO can hurt her reputation by spending too much time on Twitter (shouldn’t she be running her company?) or saying the wrong thing (do famous people say stupid things on Twitter that come back to bite them? can you say “Chick-fil-a”?).
No wonder 60% of Twitter users quit within their first month — and 82% of American adults don’t tweet at all.
But perhaps you have no choice. Your boss or client is making you tweet on their behalf. Or, if you’re looking for a marketing job and you’re younger than 30, employers will expect you to tweet. A former student of mine who’s smart, talented, friendly, and experienced recently lost out on a job when she confessed during a second-round interview that she didn’t tweet. Now she’s on Twitter and exasperated at how vapid it all seems. I agreed with her: vapidity is the norm on Twitter. But for the sake of her career, I told her to focus on the 3R’s, then spend her spare time reading The Economist or Wired to restore any brain cells numbed by things that are #ShorterThanBeyoncesHair.